As Special Counsel Robert Mueller gets ever closer to Donald Trump with each move he makes, talk has begun regarding the president possibly getting ready to start handing out pardons to those caught up in the Russia investigation or other probes that have been initiated as a result of Mueller’s work.
Let’s be clear: A president has far-reaching power in the area of pardons. He doesn’t have to get Congress or anyone else to approve them. But the power isn’t absolute, as Trump will soon find out if he thinks he might want to use pardons as a way to mitigate his own legal exposure.
For example, let’s say that Trump decided to pardon former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and attorney Michael Cohen. With a signature, Trump can remove all of the federal charges against them (even if no charges have yet be filed), and that’s the end of that chapter in the Russia investigation.
But the New York Attorney General’s office holds the ultimate hole card: They can charge Flynn, Manafort, and Cohen with violations of state law and Trump can’t do a damn thing about it.
A recent article in Vox noted that while the New York AG’s office has yet to say exactly who is under investigation, it appears that Mueller is already laying out a road map for them to follow:
“When Mueller’s office filed charges against Manafort, they included a range of financial crimes. But the charges puzzled some experts because there were several obvious potential cases tied to those crimes that didn’t appear.
“Although Mueller added new charges against Manafort in February, there’s still a range of tax and fraud charges that Mueller hasn’t used. That could be because he’s making sure that New York state prosecutors have ammunition in the event that Trump pardons Cohen after a federal conviction.”
We also know that New York Attorney General’s office has been working with Mueller since last August, so there’s little doubt their prosecutors know exactly where suspects in the Russia matter are most vulnerable.
Consider the case of Michael Cohen, who had his office and residence raided by the FBI in April. It’s been widely discussed that Trump is eager to pardon Cohen because he knows so much about the president’s business interests. But a presidential pardon would only partially shield Cohen, and that’s very bad news for Trump:
“The good news for Cohen is that Trump could pardon him for violating federal campaign finance or banking laws, a step that would keep him out of the crosshairs of New York state prosecutors as well. The bad news is that those same prosecutors could try to come after him for related crimes.”
So while Trump may be plotting to pardon his way out of trouble at this very moment, behind the scenes roadblocks are already being created to make sure he and his co-conspirators don’t walk away free.
Donald Trump is now caught in a web of lies, crimes, conspiracies, and plots from which there is no escape.